My awesome daughter, now 4 years old, is absolutely the most beautiful and fantastic creature on the planet. Having learned to pronounce the “th” in such words as “this”, “there”, “other”, “think”, and “thirteen”, she henceforth replaced all of her “f” and “v” sounds with “th”. Instead of “I fink dis fruit hurt itself twelve times,” she now says, “I think this thruit hurt itselth twelthe times.” I made up that sentence, though, in all honestly, it does sound like something she’d say.

*Note my unabashed use of punctuation outside of my quotes. I chose to follow the British system of putting the quotes where they make the most sense. Not that I think British is better, I just like to make sense, at least part of the time. If you’re my thriend, you’ll rethrain throm making thun.

I made bento lunches for the boys today. The world of sack lunch is a dreary and frustrating world, when everything you can think of involves two pieces of bread with some protein in between, and when you know vegetables should be part of the offerings, but carrot sticks? Again? So I’ve been researching the world of bento and am now, of course, obsessed.

For a long while, I’ve been avoiding sandwiches on a regular basis. I like them, and the kids like them, but I just don’t feel good about giving the kids meat, especially processed meat, on a daily basis. And, as luck would have it, one of them hates peanut butter, and the other has a close friend who is allergic to peanuts, so he can’t sit by his friend (or even in the same room) if I give him nuts.

I’ve made a rotating schedule that involves only one sandwich a week, usually ham and cheese, or cucumbers and cheese. On other days, I will send hot vegetable soup with buttered bread or biscuits, oat pancakes with maple yogurt, banana or pumpkin muffins with fruit. Not a lot of variation, but more than if it were just sammies.

So I was fooling around the other day (by fooling, I mean once I’d checked my email, read the reader, perused the news, and checked the email again, I twiddled around trying to think of something else to do that involved me not moving from my comfy chair), and I decided to look up furikake for fun. I’d read some other blog about onigiri (rice balls) and what to serve them with in a packed lunch, and the author referred me to a bento blog that has a whole bunch of furikake recipes. Literally, furikake means “sprinkles”, but not in the cupcake sense. It’s something to put on your rice to make it yummy, and there are many variations. Salty toasted sesame seeds, fish flakes, bacony nuggets, shaved, dried carrots with special pepper… I got a bee in my bonnet and had to try some.

I cooked up a pot of rice and tried the recipe for carrot and sesame seed furikake, along with our favorite baked tofu (there was much rejoicing). It was pretty good. Good enough to attempt a simple bento lunch for the boys.

I wasn’t thinking as creatively in the morning as I was later in the day*, but I managed to get 5 shooter-sized rice balls made for each boy, sprinkle on some furikake, slice some leftover tofu, make a partition with several thinly sliced carrot sticks (we’ve decided that carrots are much more palatable when very skinny), put in a tiny tupperware container of mandarin oranges, toss in about 20 frozen peas, and one other tiny thing that I can’t remember. It was beautiful, simple, and had lots of variety in one bowl. I showed the boys, warned them not to toss their lunch around and to keep it upright, and sent them off to school.

When my darling first grader came out of school this afternoon, his tale of woe began, “Mom, you know my pretty lunch? The basket holders weren’t careful and the rice balls got all…” whereupon I supplied, “exploded?” (All the lunch-bringers have to put their lunch into a basket, and one or two kids are in charge of getting said basket to the lunchroom. It’s just a pile of jumble.)

He ate it all, liked it, and called it pretty.

*Later, I was checking Amazon for anything bento related, and found dozens of different shapes of rice ball makers, bunnies, trucks, Hello Kitty, flowers… and as I was putting these things on my wish list, I suddenly realized I had an acceptable substitute: Ikea ice cube trays in the shape of flowers, fish, and stars. I sprayed some oil on them, put in a tiny spoonful of furikake, and smooshed a bunch of rice in. Works great, looks great, freezes great! And the kids kept eating them for their snack after school.

How hard would it be to go completely unprocessed in your meals, for a whole month? Andrew Wilder is a blogger who decided to see for himself, and see how many other people he could get on board. I read his post a couple weeks ago and immediately thought it was such a great idea, and surely not hard at all, since I already use so few processed ingredients! Ha!

I’ve tried to commit, but I think it will take more than a month to get there, and there will have to be some preparation, first. For example, just because I’ve decided to not use processed ingredients (defined as any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen, with readily available, whole-food ingredients), doesn’t mean I’m just going to toss out the weird, sprouted grain bread I bought last week, or not have jam on my toast. Also, I bake a lot, and I use white flour and sugar all the time. I usually don’t use only those two things, I use way more whole grain flour than white, but I just don’t think that’s worth making a huge change for.

I do appreciate the term “reasonable skill,” though, since I don’t have the reasonable skill (read: desire) to make tofu. My kids have rediscovered baked tofu, and I can never make enough of it for them. I only do it once a week, but there are never leftovers.

I’ve been pretty busy lately, with the kids, my own school, singing lessons, physical therapy for my neck, cycling everywhere, and my inexplicable need to make hot breakfast every day for my family. So I’ve started doing the thing I could never do before, a menu that recycles meals from week to week. It’s still full of variation, like how taco night can be black bean, turkey, or pork tacos, and noodle night is pretty international, but the simplification that comes from just knowing that I will make some kind of pasta makes a huge difference.

A couple of places I’ve found recently that can help in simplifying meals and cooking are Stone Soup, a blog that is dedicated to meals that are made with 5 ingredients, and take 10 minutes to prepare, and The Frugal Girl, a blog about minimizing in every area.

Oh, this has been a busy month so far! The speed of everything just revved up once school started, and we haven’t slowed down since. I’m delighted that both my boys are in the same school now, and can, theoretically, walk to and from school without parental supervision. This hasn’t happened yet, but only because the weather has been so nice, and holding hands for those few moments is so pleasant. Derek has been going to work a little earlier, so I’ve been walking the boys, with Kiki, to school every day. The girl usually feels the need to run, or even race home. Although today, there was skipping. The neighbors all walk their kids, too, so we’ve had wonderful conversations each day on the way to or from, and once again, I love my neighbors.

Kiki is now in the local whatever you call it preschool, where the special needs kids are put in with a few “typically developing” kids, to learn social cues, or whatever. All I can say is that it’s got fantastic teachers, and is less than half the price of the other local preschools, for twice the time. Four days a week! I cart her in the bike trailer, and as a result, have lost a few pounds. I really, really love my bike! I feel so hard-core sometimes, dropping kids off, picking them up, shopping, going to food club meetings (I’m in a co-op). The girls at the dentists office were downright shocked that I rode my bike there. I kept trying to explain that one mile is really not far enough to be in awe of, but just the idea of going somewhere without a car is so foreign to some people.

I also just discovered the eternal joys of the pressure cooker. I can’t believe I didn’t know how awesome they were. I even have one already, and use it to cook beans every few weeks. When I got the thing, I really only intended to use it for beans and grains, so I could make large batches and freeze them in meal-sized containers. The other day, I was at the library and spotted a cookbook (somehow irresistible to me), and checked it out. It’s Lorna Sass’s Cooking under Pressure. I had somehow associated Sass with one of those Southern Lady type TV personalities, but I was way off. She’s a food historian (I totally already own one of her historical cookbooks; To the King’s Taste), and isn’t peddling any sort of comfort food, greasy fried food, fake food, or anything really trashy. She’s just into letting us folks know that a lot of the stuff we already do in the kitchen can be done quicker (and sometimes better) in the pressure cooker.

I made barbecue chicken the other day that cooked in 9 minutes. For breakfast yesterday, I made a rice pudding that used pretty much the same recipe as the rice pudding I do often, eggs, milk, rice, sugar, but with completely different textural results. My usual stuff is somewhat like jello pudding, without the yuck. Sass’s pressure cooked pudding is kind of like a flan with rice. And as a flan-o-phile, I approve. And it’s fast. I made applesauce today, and here’s how you do it. Cut up your apples (I don’t skin them or take the cores out, cause I’m gonna use a borrowed food mill), and toss them in the cooker. Add one cup of water or cider vinegar or a mixture. Cover, heat on high until pressure is reached, turn off heat, wait for pressure to come down on it’s own. Then mill, or puree, or whatever. Add some cinnamon, boil it down further for apple butter, etc. The apples totally explode in the pressure cooker, but you don’t have to be there to stir every five minutes, and the crap doesn’t burn. There’s a recipe for Lamb stew that I can’t wait to try.

Yeah, every once in a while, don’t you just need it? The pizza is leftover from last night, warmed in the oven (I now have a phobia of microwaves… don’t judge), and the movie is called “Weather”. It’s one of those mind-blowing documentaries that has so much information that you think you might explode unless you tell everyone you know. For example, did you know:

1. It is possible to have a heart attack in the evening after going out in cold weather in the morning without a hat and gloves? I’m serious. Your blood cools and thickens, especially in the extremities, and tiny blood clots form, which migrate, by evening towards your heart. Then, death by “natural causes.” Preventable, of course, with a hat and gloves. As many as 3,000 people die each winter in London from such a heart attack. Seriously.

2. Inuits don’t have any evolutionary developments to prepare them for extreme cold, they are just plain tough. And have figured out a few tricks to help them, but really, they’re tough.

3. When overcome with both extreme hot and cold, humans eventually get confused enough that they stop seeking relief, which intensifies the problem and leads to a quicker death.

4. The jet stream was discovered by the Japanese during WWII, and with their awesome discovery, they formulated a plan to send about 900 paper balloons with attached bombs across the ocean to the US and Canada, undetected. About 300 bombs have been found, only one of them achieving it’s purpose. A pregnant woman and five children, out for a Sunday picnic, found a bomb just before it exploded. The woman’s husband saw the explosion, but could do nothing.

These are just a tiny speck of the interesting information in this movie, which Calvin brought home from the library the other day all on his own. I was so delighted with his choice, and have had a lot to think about, as we watch bits of this movie here and there.

In high school, there was a weekly newscast by the school media class. One of my brother’s friends, Chad, had a little segment where he would push some interesting activity, like rock climbing or visiting a fish hatchery, and he would sing a little opening song: Stuff to do, stuff to do, here’s Chad with a tip for you, blah blah blah something something that you haven’t done but you may just like to try! I forgot some of the words in the middle. I get that song (or parts of it, anyway) stuck in my head when I’m trying to think of something to do. This week, my partner has been out of town again, and I’ve been trying to think of things to do with the kids that would be exciting enough to make them forget about video games and movies. They are grounded from games for 2 weeks, and I really think movies should happen once a week or less (not that this is how we do it, it’s just how I wish it were done). They have to do 1 hour of reading for every 20 minutes of video games, and there’s no credit. Calvin has successfully done at least 20 minutes of reading a day this week, but when he informed me that he was starting the Harry Potter series at the end of the second book, I had to object. He said the beginning is too boring, but sheesh. You can’t possibly know all that’s going on if you start with the basilisk battle. (He told me he was reading the part where Harry kills Slytherin. See? He doesn’t know what’s going on.)

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Last week, I took the kids to our local Audubon farm for a wagon ride and ice cream. While we were there, we visited some gardens, lots of chickens, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats, miniature horses, and sheep. On the wagon ride, the driver told us how the farm is mostly organic, and I found out you can get pastured eggs and beef and stuff in the gift shop. There’s this great big deep freeze just sittin’ there, and it’s even pretty cheap. Too bad the farm is 1/2 hour away. We’re going there next month for the apple festival, where you can press your own cider, get apples, apple butter as it’s being cooked in huge kettles with steam from a steam engine, make apple pie in dutch ovens, talk to lots of Amish and Mennonite folks, and eat funnel cakes, something I was not familiar with growing up in the West.

Yesterday, I took the kids rollerskating. This was pretty entertaining for me, since it was a complete shock for the two younger ones. Calvin has been skating before, but Zeeb and Kiki were pretty stunned at how different it was from walking. Which didn’t prevent them from attempting to walk. Kiki persevered valiantly for about and hour, Zeeb fell on his butt 3 too many times, and Calvin figured out how to let go of the wall and glide. It was so awesome. When I was a kid, one of my friend’s moms took a bunch of us skating every week, and I loved it so much. I had pretty much forgotten about skating until I watched Whip It last week and decided to join a Roller Derby team.

Last week or so, I decided it’s about time for me to start riding a bike. Not the “around town” kind of biking that I already do and love, but the exercise kind that I have always hated. I have always thought cycling is just too hard on my neck and back, and that the cons outweigh the pros. Once, when I was 15 and just getting into mountain biking, I was crossing the campus of the University of Utah, and foolishly didn’t get off and walk where there were many pedestrians. In trying to avoid a collision, I got on the grass, but tried to hop the sidewalk at an awkward angle. My front tire hit the lip of the sidewalk and threw me off balance, and I somersaulted over the front of the bike, landing on my shoulder. Getting home was tricky with only one arm, but ever since then, my right shoulder has given me trouble. It doesn’t tell the weather or anything, but I can’t sleep on my right side, or my whole arm will go to sleep.

So anyway, last week, I took Derek’s hybrid bike out for a spin, and it turns out that no amount of riding around on a cruiser will prepare your butt for a regular bike seat. I managed a good 20 minutes, but it was painful, and I sure did wake up the next morning with a sore neck and shoulders.

I didn’t give up, though, and my ride today makes me think I may have a new obsession coming on. I think I may actually take up riding a couple days a week. I am suppressing the desire to seek out a cycling club just yet, but since I know so little about it, I keep thinking it may be fun to find someone to ride with. I wish I lived close to any of my three brothers, because they have all been doing it for years. Even though they sometimes crash. And sometimes break a foot.

But what do I do in the miserable winter? (Which I hope will not be as miserable this year, because we got a new furnace! I’m so excited to find out how much of difference it will make.)

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